“There is a fox out in the daylight so it must be sick. What should I do?”
This is a question wildlife rehabilitation centers hear every summer. Many people associate certain species with being strictly nocturnal, like foxes, but the animals’ behavior changes depending on the season.
A call in late spring or summer about a fox seen out and about during the day can be for several reasons It is tough being a wild ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ with hungry babies getting bigger every day.
The fear most people have is the wild animal they see has rabies. In this day and age, rabies is not as big a concern as in the past. However, it is still a dangerous disease that can be found in wildlife and is transmitted to humans and pets with direct contact. The rabies virus is not the threat it once was when stories of wild animals roaming around during the day and foaming at the mouth were rampant, unless you are in an area with a high incidence of rabies. There are many reasonable and less frightening circumstances that bring normally nocturnal wild moms and dads out in the sunlight.
Fox kits are usually born in early to mid-spring. From the beginning the male usually does the hunting, while the female stays in the den keeping the newborns warm and well fed. These wild babies mature quickly, opening their eyes by about two weeks old. By about a month old, they begin looking for more food than mom’s milk. At this time, both parents must hunt to supply enough food for as many as seven quickly growing babies. This also is usually the time people see an adult fox out in daylight hunting for dinner for the entire family.
“Of course there can be extenuating circumstances, like an injured or sick adult, and if you think this is what has happened, you should call us for advice before making any attempt to help a wild animal.
Other reasons the public may see wildlife at odd times, like a usually nocturnal animal out during the day, could be weather conditions. Large amounts of rainfall sometimes flood dens and burrows forcing wild animals to find new homes for themselves and their babies. High winds that down old trees with hollows in them could be housing a family of raccoons; once damaged and down, this family of raccoons is left homeless. At times, people call after they have watched a mother raccoon going back and forth from the downed tree to ‘somewhere’ in their backyard. The raccoon mother is usually moving her babies, one by one, to a new location. This same behavior can be exhibited by many other wild species.
“Licensed wildlife rehabilitators have the knowledge and experience to advise the public about wildlife that may need help. If you find a wild animal you think needs help, it is best to call for advice so both you and the wild animal remain safe,” said a representative of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, an organization dedicated to the education and betterment of wildlife rehabilitators.